Pakistan rolls out corona surveillance app for incoming travellers

By: News Desk      Published: 10:57 AM, 12 Jul, 2020
Pakistan rolls out corona surveillance app for incoming travellers
Pakistani nationals, who were previously stranded in India following the closure of borders due to the COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown, wave as they sit inside a car before crossing through the Wagah border post.–AFP

Pakistan has developed a mobile app to keep track of travellers entering the country through land routes and airports to ensure a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for those testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

“The app will be rolled out in a few days,” Shabahat Ali Shah, CEO of the National Information Technology Board (NITB), told Arab News.

He said the app would help record symptoms of the incoming travellers and keep track of their location. It would also communicate coronavirus test results to them and check if they were violating the self-quarantine requirement.

The government was testing everyone entering the country until recently. Many travellers were kept at big isolation centres established in hotels and marquees for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to government officials, the new app will eliminate the costs associated with the old quarantine protocols and maintain a better record of people’s movements.

Pakistan has registered 248,872 coronavirus infections since late February and over 5,000 deaths.

The government has also been carrying out contact tracing to test suspected cases and sent over half-a-million text messages to those who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

“We don’t share contact tracing numbers with the public since they keep changing on a daily basis,” Shah said, adding that people suspected to have the disease were requested to get themselves tested.

Discussing the projections, he said the number of coronavirus cases would keep changing but that the government’s actions had proved successful in bringing down the country’s infection rate.

“Smart lockdowns in different areas have helped reduce the disease,” Shah said, adding the decision to lock down virus hotspots was taken on the basis of data collected by the NITB.

He said that the COVID-19 curve would flatten if the government properly managed Eidul Azha and Muharram processions in the coming months.

According to independent IT analysts, the app would prove ineffective if “big data” was not properly analyzed. “Developing an app is not a big deal,” Mustaneer Abdullah, an IT expert, told Arab News. “The real task is to extract useful information through the algorithms and break it down in specific categories to achieve the desired targets. The trouble is that government departments lack that kind of expertise.”

He also pointed out that such apps were hazardous to public privacy in the absence of data protection laws since they sought permission from users at the time of installation to access their photo galleries, locations and contact lists to work smoothly.

“The data collected through these apps can also be a goldmine for scoundrels. People working with government departments could leak user information to digital marketers or fraudsters with total impunity.”